As Nigerians watch with keen interest the matter involving the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on the alleged declaration of false asset, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, must do what is right.
On December 10, 1948, in the aftermath of the World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It contained this pivotal recital: “It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” It went further to assert that a quality judiciary must uphold the rule of law.
Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expressed the same principle thus: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” In this wise, the rule of law ensures that courts have the power to determine authoritatively the lawfulness or not of all legislative and executive conduct by the application of the written law and legal principle.
It is a known fact that the Judiciary is there to ensure that the innocent is not unjustly punished in view of his political leaning either by the opposition or within his political party. Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has made it clear that his present case before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) was not about “corruption” but “political persecution” for emerging Senate President against the calculation of some powerful forces within his own party, the APC.
There is a precedent to this. When in 2011, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) considered former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu a threat, they railroaded him to appear before the CCT for alleged breaches in his asset declaration forms while he was governor, without complying with mandatory procedures for such arraignment.
Nigerians read between the lines and cried foul. The CCT did not shirk its responsibility in ensuring that Justice was done. It promptly dismissed the charges against Tinubu. Similarly, Saraki though a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has said he is being persecuted at the CCT based on the opinion of some influential party members that he emerged Senate President against their wish.
Come to think of it, Saraki became Senate President on June 9, 2015. In September of the same year, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) suddenly woke up from its slumber to discover that there were breaches in the Asset Declaration forms he filled in 2003, when he first became the governor of Kwara State.
Moreover, the CCB sidestepped a germane Section of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, which provides that when such infractions, irregularities or breaches are observed in the assets declared by a public official, such an official or ex-official should first be informed of such anomalies by the CCB and be allowed to admit or deny the irregularities. It added that if the subject admits the discrepancies in writing, “there shall be no recourse to the CCT.”
But in this case, as had been made clear by the lead defence counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi SAN, Saraki was never given the opportunity to admit or deny the alleged discrepancies in his asset declaration forms for which he is now being tried for at the CCT. He was not even made to write a statement on the issue.
This is even more worrisome in view of the fact that Tinubu had been arraigned in a similar fashion for alleged breach of the CCB/CCT Act and the same chairman of the CCT, Justice Danlandi Umar, declined jurisdiction to try him based on the fact that the “condition precedent” for arraigning a suspect before the tribunal was not met by the CCB.
This is why many Nigerians believe that Saraki has no case to answer in the present circumstances and that it will be in the overall interest of justice and enrichment of our democracy for the tribunal to strike out the case against him based on the yet unchallenged precedent it set in the Tinubu case.
For the avoidance of doubt, Section 3(d) of the CCB/CCT Act unambiguously provides that the Bureau shall: “Receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of this Act and where the Bureau considers it necessary to do so, refer such complaints to the Code of Conduct Tribunal established by Section 20 of this Act in accordance with the provisions of Sections 20 to 25 of this Act: provided that where the person concerned makes a written admission of such breach or non-compliance, no reference to the tribunal shall be necessary.”
It therefore follows that having quashed the case against Tinubu on this very premise in 2011, to rule otherwise in the Saraki case will be highly suspicious and obviously portrays the judiciary as having abandoned its fundamental role as an arbiter by conniving with politicians to nail a perceived ‘errant’ member, albeit through political persecution. If this were the case, Justice to the accused, the prosecution and the society on whose behalf the prosecutor works cannot be said to have been truly done.
Saraki has repeatedly said he is being persecuted by elements within the ruling APC for contesting and winning the post of the Senate President against the express wish and interest of an ingrained cabal within the party. What is more? I believe that it is no coincidence that Mr. Danlandi Umar, who presided over and dismissed the charges against Tinubu is the same Chairman presiding over the Saraki case today. Therefore, the overwhelming expectation of Nigerians is that he should follow the precedent he set in the Tinubu case by declining jurisdiction to try Saraki (the tribunal has however assumed jurisdiction).
Nigerians hope that Umar would find the courage to follow his conscience and good reason in this case. For the avoidance of doubt, Justice Umar had ruled in the case between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu with Charge No. CCT/ABJ/1/11 on 30th of November, 2011 that “On Section 3(d), I feel compelled by the argument of the learned SAN for the accused. It is a condition precedent for referring a charge to this Tribunal that the Accused ought to have been invited to either deny or admit the allegations against him.
“This is missing in this case as the Complainant has no such evidence of a prior invitation. It would be proper for me at this stage to simply decline further exercise of jurisdiction having held that the condition precedent to the instituting of charges against the Accused has not been complied with. I hereby resolve this issue in favour of the Accused…” This is the right thing and proper thing Nigerians expect Justice Umar to do despite the bandwagon of the howling mob, who will rather have the CCT reverse itself by assuming jurisdiction to try Saraki.
Why should Justice Umar do the right thing in the Saraki case? He should do the right thing by striking out the case against Saraki because it is the same type of charge, same judge, same Tribunal, same CCB/ CCT Act and same Constitution and same shirking of the condition precedent that has occurred. This is the plank upon which Saraki’s lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN premised his plea before the Tribunal last Friday.
Added to this is a common saying in law that it is far better for 1000 criminals to be set at liberty than for one innocent person to be wrongly convicted. The tribunal cannot afford to set a bad precedent by overruling itself. The Tribunal must also discountenance the comments of the prosecution in this case that it decided the Tinubu case in error in 2011.
If the prosecution knew this, why has it not appealed the ruling since over five years ago? The position of the prosecution is not only meant to set up the Honourable Members of the CCT, but to put a question mark on their past decisions in the CCT.
The CCT should not also be carried away by the apparent orchestrated hypes and media trial out there shouting “crucify him, crucify him”. Though an important organ of any democratic society, the press ought to allow the wheel of Justice to grind unencumbered. It must not constitute itself into a prosecutor and judge in a case instituted before any court in the land.
To apparently blackmail the CCT in perverting justice at this time would not only jeopardize the inalienable rights of the defendant, but a gross usurpation of the powers of the judiciary to determine issues brought before them impartially and independently.
Furthermore, the press should not lend its powerful platform to be used by powerful members of the society to pervert justice by resorting to subtle blackmail of the judiciary to err in law. It must be noted that without the constant vigilance of the judiciary, our democracy, rule of law and human liberty will be greatly imperiled.